European leaders urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for dialogue in neighbouring Belarus on Tuesday as opposition supporters protested President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed election win for a 10th day.
Demonstrators rallied outside a detention centre in Minsk where the husband of Lukashenko's main challenger in the election was being held, the latest in a wave of protests after the president claimed a sixth term in the August 9 ballot.
EU chief Charles Michel said on Twitter that he had spoken to Putin by phone and added that "only peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue can resolve the crisis in Belarus".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with Putin, whose country has close economic and military ties with its neighbour.
Merkel told Putin the authorities in Minsk must "enter into a national dialogue with the opposition and society to overcome the crisis", while Macron urged the Russian leader to foster "calm and dialogue".
In Kremlin readouts of the two calls, Putin emphasised that interfering in Belarus and putting pressure on its authorities would be "unacceptable", as the European Union moves to impose sanctions over the vote and a brutal police crackdown on protesters.
Moscow has said it is ready to step in if necessary in Belarus through the CSTO military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.
But it is unclear how much support Putin is willing to give to Lukashenko, who in recent years has often played off Moscow against the West.
- 'Lawlessness and injustice' -
Several hundred people gathered outside the walls of the detention centre to mark the 42nd birthday of Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger who was imprisoned alongside other Lukashenko rivals ahead of the election.
Protesters holding red-and-white balloons in the colours of the opposition clapped and chanted "Happy Birthday".
"I have come to support the political prisoners who are held behind the walls of our jails. These are absolutely innocent people," Anatoly Vaitikovsky, 53, told AFP.
Lukashenko was jeered by workers at a state-run factory on Monday but has defied calls to hold a new election and on Tuesday handed out awards to 300 members of the security services, who have been accused of abusing arrested protesters.
Tikhanovsky's wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was allowed to run in his place but fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming that Lukashenko had rigged the election to secure his official 80 percent of the vote.
Belarusian investigators have accused Tikhanovsky of inciting "social hostility" and calls to use violence against law enforcement officers.
In a video message, Tikhanovskaya said her husband was spending his birthday in prison accused of "a crime he did not commit".
"All of this blatant lawlessness and injustice shows how this rotting system works, in which one person controls everything, one person who has kept the country in fear for 26 years, one person who robbed Belarusians of their choice," she said.
- Historic demonstrations -
Belarus saw its largest street demonstrations over the weekend since it gained independence from the Soviet Union, with more than 100,000 people taking to the streets of the capital to demand Lukashenko stand down after 26 years in power.
The police crackdown on post-election demonstrations last week saw more than 6,700 people arrested, hundreds wounded and left two people dead.
Authorities have gradually released detainees -- many emerging with horrific accounts of beatings and torture.
European Union leaders have announced they will hold an emergency video summit on Belarus on Wednesday and both the United States and Britain this week voiced concerns over the elections and the crackdown.
Lithuanian lawmakers on Tuesday urged Western governments not to recognise Lukashenko as president, after accusing Belarus of escalating post-vote tensions by preparing military exercises on its border with Europe.
Tikhanovskaya, 37, has said she will organise new elections if Lukashenko steps down and the opposition has formed a Coordination Council to ensure a transfer of power, which was due to convene on Tuesday.
Her ally Maria Kolesnikova on Tuesday visited the National Academy Theatre in Minsk to show support for staff who resigned after director and former culture minister Pavel Latushko was forced from his post for publically calling for new elections and Lukashenko's resignation.